Criminal Justice

After his arrest in Honduras, lawyer who pleaded guilty in $550M disability fraud returns to court

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Eric C.Conn/FBI

A lawyer who fled the United States as he was awaiting sentencing in a $550 million disability fraud was in a Kentucky courtroom on Wednesday.

Eric C. Conn pleaded not guilty in federal court to escape after he was returned from Honduras, where he was arrested on Saturday outside a pizza restaurant, reportedly after using the wi-fi there. WHAS, the Associated Press and the Lexington Herald-Leader covered the plea.

During the hearing, Conn appeared at ease, saying hello to prosecutors and waving to someone in the courtroom, according to the Herald-Leader.

Conn cut off his ankle monitor and escaped on June 2. He was sentenced in absentia in July to 12 years in prison for bribing an administrative law judge, obligating the government to pay more than $550 million in lifetime disability payments. The disability judge pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Conn started serving his sentence in the disability case when he was taken into custody by U.S. authorities, according to his lawyer, Scott White.

White told the Herald-Leader that if Conn hadn’t fled, he might have been able to reduce his 12-year sentence to nine or 10 years and serve 85 percent of the total. “It was quite a gamble that he took” by allegedly escaping, White said.

Now, Conn could face additional charges in the disability case. He had been indicted on 18 counts and pleaded guilty to only two of them—submitting false documents and bribing the judge.

The Social Security Administration, meanwhile, is reviewing the cases of 1,500 people who had been represented by Conn, the Herald-Leader reports in an editorial. The government suspended disability payments to 900 people, possibly contributing to three suicides.

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